Friday, September 10, 2010

Last Call

This (week's) violent domestic terrorist wingnut story is uncomfortably close to where I grew up in North Carolina.  Concord is just outside of Charlotte.

A Concord man was charged with describing how to make explosives, in an effort to bomb an abortion clinic, after FBI agents found instructions on the man's Facebook page and caught him in a sting, officials said Thursday.

Justin Carl Moose, 26, is a self-described "extremist, radical" and the "Christian counterpart of Osama bin Laden," according to an affidavit filed by FBI agents. Agents arrested Moose, who lives in a northwest Concord neighborhood, on Tuesday.

His arrest followed an investigation that began after Planned Parenthood alerted the FBI to a Facebook page registered to Moose, which the group said was advocating extreme violence against abortion providers.

Agents began monitoring the page and Moose's private messages. They say he collaborated last week with a confidential informant to plan the bombing of an abortion clinic in North Carolina.

Moose's relatives were reached by phone Thursday and declined to comment. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on federal charges of distribution of information relating to explosives.

Yeah.  Called himself the "Christian counterpart to Bin Laden" and plotted to blow up an abortion clinic.  But remember, we have to worry about Muslims because every single one of the mosques in America are "potential terror hubs" and stuff.  Meanwhile, while the unruly mob is busy determining just how many civil liberties we can collectively take away from American Muslims because they're not really Americans, it's people who call themselves Christians who are actually plotting terror attacks on American soil.

So under "Park51 is too close to Ground Zero" logic, we now have to ask "Well they can, but is it right for Christians to build churches anywhere near Atlanta after what they did to Millennium Park at the Olympics?"

We now have to ask if Charlotte is being taken over by Christian fundamentalists who want Dominionist law, right?

Guess this is what Markos Moulitsas meant by his book "American Taliban" huh.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Hey folks?  Col. Mustard is actually right for once.

I know.  Call the Ripley's people.

The fact that Rush Limbaugh went to the same high school at the same time with Pastor Terry Jones means absolutely jack.  Both men are complete assholes, yes.  Somehow, I don't think it has anything to do with Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the high school, or the people there.

It has everything to do with the choices these men have made of their own free will.  It means both men graduated the same high school in 1969.  That's it.  That's all.

Making something more out of it is moronic.  That's the kind of guilt by association stupidity that is used too many times to attack Democrats.  And who started this?  Olbermann.

C'mon Keith.  I expect better.

Worth Paying For

When conservatives tell you that government is useless and that public infrastructure spending is money taxpayers are throwing down the rathole, consider last night's San Bruno gas line explosion and the true cost of maintenance.

There will be investigations and there will be denials and equivocation, but I've managed to put this much together from tweets and reports posted to journalists' blogs:
  • The ruptured main belongs to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)
  • The pipe that ruptured was installed in 1948
  • Residents in the area had smelled gas for 3 weeks. When it was reported, some were told to shut their garage doors; others were told not to worry about it. (note: those tweets were people reacting in real time to TV reports and interviews)
  • People are still missing. Expect the death toll to rise.
  • The force of the explosion also stopped the water supply, making it much more difficult to fight the fire.
  • PG&E's president was interviewed, but managed to cover himself and duck any hard questions in the process about whether reports of a gas leak had not received priority attention.
  • At the time of this writing, it is reported that 45 homes have been lost with hundreds more damaged.
A neighborhood exploded. Just like that. It was there one minute, gone the next, apparently the victim of a deteriorating 62-year old cylinder in the ground that wore out, blew out, and exploded after rupturing the ground above it. That cylinder is just one of many old, deteriorating lines.

And right now, early in the game, we're left with questions about whether that pipe was properly maintained, whether the right amount of attention was paid to reports of a gas leak in the area, and whether PG&E has adequately invested in keeping their equipment safe and up-to-date.

This is a company that spent $46 million dollars to buy a California ballot initiative in the primary to keep municipalities from maintaining their own utilities. 

But the free market means that PG&E has every reason to spend money in order to maintain their infrastructure, right?  So they would never let anything crazy negligent happen like a massive gas line eruption that would destroy dozens of homes and kill people, right?  Especially after the efforts to get public spending for infrastructure maintenance pulled in order to save taxpayer money, because people in Los Angeles should be spending their tax dollars to fix problems in San Diego, and that's a wasteful and inefficient misappropriation of funds and all that?

After all, if you want to use infrastructure, you should pay for it individually, because that's the only equitable and fair way.

In what Mr. DiSimone called his Free Limit Plan, he would give Nevadans and nonresidents the option to drive up to 90 miles an hour on state roads. The privilege would cost $25 a day and would conservatively generate more than $1 billion a year in new state revenue, he said.

“A year ago, when I put this plan together, every time I saw a highway patrol by the roadside, I’d pull over and ask them about it,” he said. “I stopped counting around 27 or 28 conversations, and based on what they told me, I estimate about 30 to 40 percent of drivers would be interested in doing it.”

The Invisible Hand of the Free market guarantees that people driving at 90 won't cause any problems, right?  Just like it prevented anything bad from happening in San Bruno, California.  After all when you change the motivation for infrastructure spending to profit margins and not safety literally get what you pay for, yes?

Just like the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.  Just like toxic waste disposal facilities.  Just like chemical plants and oil refineries.  Just like...where you live and work and drive.

HAMPered Recovery

If there's one real total and complete foul-up that can laid directly at the feet of Obama and not "inherited from Bush" or "but it was blocked by the GOP in Congress" it's the President's failed HAMP program.  It's been a complete disaster all the way around, and it's now producing horror stories like this.

"It was really stressful," Mike Kahara, 34, recalled. "We kept asking our creditors what we could do to work things out. They just said we should make more money."

The couple received a notice of default on their mortgage from Wells Fargo in August 2009. But a bank rep said there might be some hope. The Kaharas were advised to seek assistance through the Home Affordable Modification Program, a federal program intended to help homeowners by modifying loan terms.

In December, they were notified by Wells that they were eligible for a three-month trial loan modification that would lower their monthly payments to about $1,400. The Kaharas managed to make all subsequent payments in full.

After the three months were up, Ellen Kahara said, they were told by Wells that their case was still under review and that they should keep making the $1,400 payments. They did.

The bank continued requesting paperwork as part of its review process. Ellen said she called Wells on Aug. 9 and for days afterward to check on the status of their loan modification but never got a call back.

The Kaharas received a letter from Wells dated Aug. 11 saying that their application for a permanent loan modification had been rejected. The letter said the Kaharas would have 30 days to discuss other options available to them.

"No foreclosure sale will be conducted and you will not lose your home during this 30-day period," the letter said.

But on Aug. 18 there was a knock at the door around 8 in the morning. Mike Kahara said a young man wearing a white polo shirt and dark slacks introduced himself as Sebastian Cruz of the investment firm Pacifica Cos.

Cruz said his firm had purchased the house and that he would offer the Kaharas $1,500 if they'd agree to vacate the property within two weeks.

He produced a document with Pacifica letterhead informing the Kaharas that their home "has changed ownership through the foreclosure process." It threatened legal action if the couple didn't move out.

"I thought it was a scam at first," Mike Kahara said. "Then I realized he was serious."

Dead serious.  HAMP has failed totally, only allowing a small fraction of Americans to keep their homes and just making things easier for the banks to get theirs the other 99% of the time.  HAMP is absolutely something that needs to be hung on this President's neck.  And strangely, he seems to be making no effort to alleviate the massive economic problem that is millions of Americans losing their homes despite a program specifically designed to keep them there.  The folks behind it?  Tim Geithner and Larry Summers.

So unless the hiring of Austan Goolsbee is to replace both men (which it's not) then we're still in a crapload of serious trouble.

Man, That Must Be Some Prime Stuff He's Smoking

Because whatever Brent Budowski is consuming, the effects on his writing are completely friggin' awesome.
Within hours and possibly minutes I expect the president will name Elizabeth Warren to lead the new consumer protection agency, and if he does, the Democratic base will erupt and turn out to vote in far greater numbers than any current poll suggests.

I could be wrong; Obama might give up at the last minute, which would be the last betrayal of the Democratic base and very possibly the death knell of the Democratic House of Representatives. But if he names Warren, the pundits be will amazed, astonished and flabbergasted by the lift this would give to the Democratic base and by the voter turnout that would follow.

If Obama names Warren, consumers would have the strongest possible friend fighting for them all day, every day, at a time of major consumer rip-offs and disastrous consumer confidence that would be lifted with the Warren selection.

If Obama names Warren, veterans and military families who have endured rip-offs and abuses would have the strongest possible friend with Elizabeth Warren.
Am I missing the metasnark here?  Is this some big colossal joke I'm missing?  Elizabeth Warren is the key to the entire election?

How about taking a strong stance on DADT and gay rights, or abandoning Bush policies on civil liberties, or getting more troops out of the Middle East, or using economic solutions that aren't taken from the Republican playbook?

The President's last response in today's press conference on Park51 for example was brilliant.  That's the kind of thing we need more of.  Not the milquetoast wishy-washy split the middle crap that he spouted in the first half of the presser.  Half the frustration is we know Obama is fully capable to great moments, it's that he chooses to not pursue them on purpose.

Only now with the Dems' collective backs against the wall is he coming around.  Strength inspires people, Barack.  Not "compromise".

[UPDATE] We need more of this.

The Old And The New

The 9/11 reflections begin today with the web copy of Ted Koppel's thoughts on the anniversary, and in a way it's a perfect microcosm of the problem the Village still has nine years later.
The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves. Bin Laden does not deserve that we, even inadvertently, fulfill so many of his unimagined dreams.
It did not have to be this way. The Bush administration's initial response was just about right. The calibrated combination of CIA operatives, special forces and air power broke the Taliban in Afghanistan and sent bin Laden and the remnants of al-Qaeda scurrying across the border into Pakistan. The American reaction was quick, powerful and effective -- a clear warning to any organization contemplating another terrorist attack against the United States. This is the point at which President George W. Bush should have declared "mission accomplished," with the caveat that unspecified U.S. agencies and branches of the military would continue the hunt for al-Qaeda's leader. The world would have understood, and most Americans would probably have been satisfied.
Nowhere in Koppel's article do you see an admission of the major problem here:  it was the media itself after 9/11 that helped sell the connection between 9/11 and Iraq and got us into that deadly war in the first place.  Koppel in fact completely glosses over this, just like the media has been doing for, oh, nine years now.

What role did Koppel and his show Nightline play in selling the Iraq War to the American people?  it wasn't a small one, nor was it a small role for Koppel's employer, ABC News.  We know now that Dick Cheney's shop in the White House packaged and sold the Iraq War as a "product" to the Village media.  Getting public support for the invasion of Iraq was absolutely critical to invading and the media shaped that opinion.

In other words, the last person qualified to moan about how Bush should have stopped after Afghanistan and pulled out there was anyone involved in selling those trillion dollar quagmires to the American people....people like Ted Koppel.

Look in the mirror, man.  A healthy chunk of this blame falls squarely on the shoulders of you and your media colleagues.

Playing The Maes Of Spayed

Colorado Republican Dan Maes is finding that one is the loneliest number these days as he has popular Denver mayor John Hickenlooper running for Governor on his left, and perennial crackpot and virulent anti-immigration nutjob Tom Tancredo running as an independent on his right.  Stuck in the middle with him?  Nobody.

Now, some of the GOPers who once backed him are starting to abandon ship. In a highly unusual move, Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck -- who, like Maes, attracted much of his support from Tea Party activists -- has recanted his endorsement of Maes. "I have decided that I can no longer support his candidacy for governor of Colorado," Buck said in a statement last week. "[Maes] is struggling to determine the best path for his campaign, his family and for Colorado." The Tea Party base is turning against him, too, with numerous Tea Party organizers telling Maes that it's time to get out of the race.

And now even Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a potential candidate for president, is writing it off. "We have put some money in Colorado," Barbour told reporters. "Past tense."

Now more shoes are dropping. Tancredo has rolled out endorsements from 20 elected and formerly elected Republicans, the Denver Post reported. "The narrative has been written about Dan Maes and the weakness of his campaign. He can't overcome it and beat Hickenlooper," said Republican state Sen. Ted Harvey. "We've worked very hard in the conservative trenches to have an opportunity like this ... and Tom Tancredo is the only strong conservative in the race who can raise money and put on a credible campaign."

Another Tancredo-backer is former Rep. Bob Beauprez -- who was previously the Republican nominee for governor back in 2006: "I think Maes' support will continue to evaporate rather dramatically, and I expect a coalescing of Republicans around Tom."

If Republicans are waiting for a coalescing of support for Tancredo, it better come quickly -- the TPM Poll Average shows the Democrat Hickenlooper in first place with 44.6%, then Maes in second with 28.1%, and Tancredo way behind at 12.7%.

So the question becomes "Will the GOP throw its own candidate under the bus and give the state to a total whackjob like Tom Tancredo in order to deny the Dems an easy win?"  It certainly seems that way.  So, just so Colorado knows what it's in for, let's review some of Tom Tancredo's greatest hits:
– Said he “didn’t know” if Obama “hates white people.”
– Argued Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a member of the “Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses” and that she “appears to be a racist.”
– Claiming Obama may “indeed” be “a racist” because he nominated “Sonia Mayer” for the Supreme Court.
After Tancredo resigned from Congress, he told the press that he regretted being known for being anti-immigrant. A few months later, the proud nativist told a young Republicans gathering that he’d be open to halting all immigration to the United States.

What a guy, huh?  And apparently the Colorado GOP is willing to toss their actual candidate to get behind this asshole, just to win an election.  Good luck with this one, fellas.

Drop Some Knowledge On Them

WikiLeaks is planning another massive document dump, this time on the Iraq War, and this time it's being a bit more a global media effort.
A London-based journalism nonprofit is working with the WikiLeaks Web site and TV and print media in several countries on programs and stories based on what is described as massive cache of classified U.S. military field reports related to the Iraq War. Iain Overton, editor of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, tells Declassified that his organization has teamed up with media organizations—including major television networks and one or more American media outlets—in an unspecified number of countries to produce a set of documentaries and stories based on the cache of Iraq War documents in the possession of WikiLeaks. As happened with a similar WikiLeaks collection of tens of thousands of U.S. military field reports on the Afghan war, the unidentified media organizations involved with the London group in the Iraq documents project will all be releasing their stories on the same day, which Overton says would be several weeks from now. He declined to identify any of the media organizations participating in the project.

Overton acknowledges that the volume of Iraq War reports that WikiLeaks has made available for the project is massive, and almost certainly more than the 92,000 Afghan field reports the organization made available for advance review to The New York Times, Britain's Guardian, and Germany's Der Spiegel. The material is the "biggest leak of military intelligence" that has ever occurred, Overton says. As we reported when stories on WikiLeaks' Afghan holdings first appeared, the site's stash of Iraq documents is believed to be about three times as large as its Afghanistan collection. After the Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel published their stories based on the Afghan war documents, the site itself posted 76,000 of the papers. But after coming under criticism from both Pentagon spokesmen and human-rights activists for publishing information that could jeopardize the lives of Afghans cooperating with American and allied forces, WikiLeaks said it would not itself post the remaining 15,000 Afghan war documents until activists had taken some time to review, and, if necessary, edit sensitive information from the material.

So, we're basically looking at a massive story blitz based on potentially hundreds of thousands of field reports and other documents from the Iraq War, scheduled to come out right about the time of Election Day.  This could make things very interesting for the November elections, depending on the intelligence released.  It could also not land until after Election Day too, so we don't know.

Still, this is looking like a massive undertaking here that has the potential to put the Iraq War back on the front burner.  Obama has ended combat operations there but we still have 50,000 troops in country and they're not armed with blanks, folks.  We need to get these guys out, and bring them home.

I'm hoping this WikiLeaks project will accelerate that release.

We're Number...Four.

In just two years, the US has slipped from the World Economic Forum's most competitive economy to fourth this year.
The U.S. has slipped down the ranks of competitive economies, falling behind Sweden and Singapore due to huge deficits and pessimism about government, a global economic group said Thursday.

Switzerland retained the top spot for the second year in the annual ranking by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum. It combines economic data and a survey of more than 13,500 business executives.

Sweden moved up to second place while Singapore stayed at No. 3. The United States was in second place last year after falling from No. 1 in 2008.

The WEF praised the United States for its innovative companies, excellent universities and flexible labor market. But it also cited huge deficits, rising government debt and declining public faith in politicians and corporate ethics.

"There has been a weakening of the United States' public and private institutions, as well as lingering concerns about the state of its financial markets," the group said.

Mapping a clear strategy for exiting the huge U.S. stimulus "will be an important step in reinforcing the country's competitiveness," it said.
Of course being able to get out of the need for stimulus is more important, and that's not going to happen anytime soon.  So yes, 13,500 business executives are a little sore at the US right now.  Go figure.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Think So

A federal judge in California struck down the military's ban on gay soldiers yesterday, saying it was unconstitutional.  Judge Virginia A. Phillips issued the ruling late last night on the case of servicemen discharged from the military under the policy.

The plaintiffs challenged the law under the Fifth and First Amendments to the Constitution, and Judge Phillips agreed.

“The don’t ask, don’t tell act infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways,” she wrote. “In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the don’t ask, don’t tell act was necessary to significantly further the government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden.”

The rule, she wrote in an 86-page opinion, has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services.

The plaintiffs argued that the act violated the rights of service members in two ways.

First, they said, it violates their guarantee of substantive due process under the Fifth Amendment. The second restriction, the plaintiffs said, involves the free-speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although those rights are diminished in the military, the judge wrote, the restrictions in the act still fail the constitutional test of being “reasonably necessary” to protect “a substantial government interest.”

The “sweeping reach” of the speech restrictions under the act, she said, “is far broader than is reasonably necessary to protect the substantial government interest at stake here.” 
DADT's days were numbered of course, but this pretty much seals the deal.  It's not going to help the Obama administration's base that Eric Holder and the DoJ will almost certainly appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit and have to again defend the policy in court, and the odds of a much less cooperative Congress after January is arguably much higher now.

Everyone of course has been waiting for Congress to act on this, and they've punted to the DoD.  Now, something's got to give and give soon.  Judge Phillips has stayed her decision in order to give the government a chance to appeal the case, and it may or may not be heading for the Supreme Court depending on what the Pentagon does.

Interestingly enough, it was the Log Cabin Republicans who brought and won the lawsuit against DADT.  Good for them.  Republicans shouldn't tolerate such open discrimination any more than Democrats or anyone should for that matter.  Alas, we still have quite a bit in America in 2010.

Things are getting slightly better, at least.


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